Don’t get me wrong. I have a high regard for the National Trust. I’m a Life Member — and have been for years. I’ve had enormous enjoyment from visiting their properties — and their tea rooms — up and down the country. I imagine that if I ever get to retire, I will spend sunny summer afternoons sitting on a Lutyens bench in some corner of a beautifully-tended National Trust garden — and probably doing the Telegraph cross-word.
When the NT does what it says on the tin, preserving our cultural heritage and fine country houses, and opening them to the public, it does a great job. I think those critics who claim that the NT “Disneyfies” these heritage properties are probably over-stating their case. The NT has also distinguished itself in the fight against wind farm applications in historic landscapes, most notably (in the East Midlands at least) at Lyveden New Bield
And yet, and yet… Every so often the Trust gets carried away by political correctness — and I suspect it infuriates a large chunk of its membership. It certainly infuriates me. A few years ago it decided that it would ban hunting, even on land that had been gifted to the Trust on the explicit condition that hunting would continue. If it felt that strongly about the issue, and was determined to flout the express wishes of donors, surely it should have done the decent thing and returned the land concerned to the estates or descendents of the donors. And anyway, it’s there to preserve our heritage, not to impose modish fads on the large areas of land in its custody.
And now we read that it proposes “to campaign more aggressively for action against climate change”. It even has the effrontery to suggest that it is putting its 350,000 members “in the front line of the fight against climate change”. I’m one of those 350,000 members, and I absolutely reject and repudiate its position. Dame Helen Ghosh, the Director General of the NT, says “All the evidence we have at the trust shows that the biggest threat we face is to biodiversity and wildlife”. It is not clear to me, as an NT member, how their duty to preserve heritage properties and landscape can be primarily concerned with wildlife and biodiversity (in many Trust properties, wildlife is part of the threat, from bat-poo to beetles). Nor is it clear that loss of biodiversity is primarily about climate — others might point the finger at galloping urbanisation and development, population pressure, and intensive farming practices.
Dame Helen needs to recall that the recent slight warming (which no sane person denies) is entirely consistent with similar cycles in history — the Mediæval Warm Period, the Roman Optimum, the Minoan Optimum, the Holocene Maxima. Biodiversity (and polar bears) survived those natural, cyclical events perfectly well, and will do again.
But Dame Helen’s big beef is coastal erosion, which is obviously due to climate change — isn’t it? Isn’t the sea level rising?
Yes. The sea level is rising — very slowly. At the beginning of the current Interglacial, ten to twelve thousand years ago, sea level rose very rapidly indeed, driven by ice melt. It inundated much of the North Sea area, which had previously been dry land with a significant early human population. It created the English Channel (which some might consider a very positive development). And the rate of sea level rise has been slowing ever since, so that today it is close to zero.
Coastal erosion has not been uniquely a feature of the post-Industrial Revolution period. Perhaps the most significant example on the East Coast in the last thousand years was the prosperous port town of Dunwich in Suffolk, which largely disappeared in the thirteenth century, half a millennium before the industrial revolution, and seven hundred years before four-by-fours started emitting CO2.
The apparent sea level rise in Eastern England (including the Thames barrier and the possible risk to London) is not so much about sea level rise — more about tectonic plate movement. England, and especially Eastern England, is slowly sinking, while Scotland seems to be rising (Sorry, Alex Salmond, we’re talking geology, not politics).
Further from home, the periodic flooding in Bangladesh is often quoted as evidence of the damage from “man-made climate change”. But in fact the Indian tectonic plate (including Bangladesh on its eastern margin) is being subducted under the Burma platelet, which seems to be the key problem. Not so much sea level rising as tectonic plate dropping.
My advice to Dame Helen: don’t listen to the Just-So stories from the green lobby. The world is much more complicated than that. Oh, and please stick to your core mission, rather than trying to dragoon your membership into backing policies that many of them find naïve and dangerous.